Local sports take heat 'day by day'

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WINDHAM COUNTY — Heat and humidity are presenting a challenge for student athletes trying to prepare for competitions.

"We're just monitoring this daily and taking it day by day," said Chris Sawyer, athletic director for Brattleboro Union High School.

His school has changed practice schedules to accommodate the high temperatures. He said schools go by a policy from the Vermont Principals' Association based on heat and cold indexes. The heat index looks at effects of air temperature and relative humidity.

This week, practices at BUHS were rescheduled or modified on Monday and Tuesday. Teams were asked to practice before 9 a.m. if possible.

"We re-examine the heat index around noon," Sawyer said Tuesday. "We've canceled practices for the rest of the day. If they haven't been held yet, they were canceled."

Sawyer expects the same will happen today. He said only one the cross country team did not practice Tuesday morning but it had a meet scheduled in Bellows Falls so it would not have practiced anyway.

During the interview, Sawyer was waiting to hear whether the track meet would be canceled. He said field hockey and soccer games scheduled for today also could be postponed. He recalled another week this summer requiring rearrangement of practices.

Heat forcing changes to high school sports scheduling "seems to be a new thing," said Sawyer, remembering a football game being held a couple of hours later than originally planned last year. "We also lost some scrimmages."

Sawyer said one or two practices had to be moved around two summers ago, about a year after the VPA's policy was put in place.

"Since we had the policy, I think there was only one summer we haven't been affected," he said.

No students at BUHS have died or suffered from heat strokes or exhaustion under Sawyer's watch.

"I think that's the whole point of the policy," he said, calling heat the leading cause of death of student athletes around the United States.

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Depending on how hot it is, a practice at BUHS may be modified to include 20 minutes of rest for every hour of activity. Some teams could practice without equipment. And the duration of practices may be shortened.

With football practices being held indoors and girls soccer practices scheduled earlier in the day at the Bellows Falls Union High School, Windham Northeast Superintendent Chris Pratt said school officials have been "pretty proactive in being cognizant of the weather."

"The weather's been so up and down lately," he said. "We're just taking it one day at a time now to get in practices and keep kids safe because that is the main priority."

Pratt said practice schedules started to be rearranged last week when the area saw high temperatures again. He said students are given plenty of water breaks.

"So far, so good," he said when asked whether there had been any heat-related incidents.

Marty Tiesto, athletics and activities director at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, said he was monitoring the weather for Tuesday's practices.

"Tomorrow is in question with a game," he wrote in an email.

The VPA says all schools are expected to adhere to its policy.

"Exertion heat stroke is on the rise in this country, and is currently among the top three reasons why athletes die during sporting activities," the association wrote in its "Procedure for Athletic Participation in the Heat."

Athletic trainers or similar personnel are expected to monitor the weather. Coaches are advised to avoid scheduling training and games during the hottest part of the day, which is said usually to be between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Shaded areas should be made "easily accessible" during rest and water breaks, according to the policy, and athletes should have unlimited supplies of water at each activity.

The VPA says fluid loss happens during exercise because of perspiration and respiration, and it makes athletes more likely to become fatigued or experience muscle cramps. Excessive dehydration due to inadequate fluid replacement could lead to other heat illnesses.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, weakness, loss of endurance or skill, headache, light-headedness, nausea and pale, clammy, sweaty skin. Symptoms of exertional heat stroke include white skin, confusion, increased body temperature or heart rate, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea and collapse.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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